April 2023

I sat down on Monday to write my Pastor’s Corner. With Easter right around the corner, I had decided to write about an obscure detail in the Gospel of Mark and Luke. In Mark’s gospel, the detail reads, “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” From the moment Jesus breathed his last, we now gained access to God’s presence unfettered, and freely available to everyone. On earth as in heaven…then I heard about the shooting in Nashville.
Once again children shot dead while at school, a church school no less…and I lost my words. I lost my access to the hope that is in that detail recorded in scripture. So, I turn to words I wrote the Sunday following the school shooting in Uvalde where 19 people were mowed down—most of them children.
That Sunday I was preaching from Jesus’ prayer in the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel as he prayed to God to unify his people. This is what I wrote:
“A minister’s job is difficult in times like these, or at least it should be. Speaking for myself, I never feel more like a fraud than when I am reeling from the brokenness and evil perpetrated by humans. How do I preach hope when I feel hopeless? How do I preach peace when I am so angry, I could cry? How do I preach love when that same anger makes it hard to even want to? Yet this is my task and the scripture the Lord gave me to preach on is this one and this scripture reminds me that I believe in the
power of purple (red and blue together), I believe in hope, and not giving into darkness and I believe it because of the love shown to me in Jesus who prayed these words on the night he was betrayed.
On Friday, I sat on our back porch as the rain poured from the heavens in torrents. It felt right. It felt purifying as if God Almighty knew we needed to be washed clean. Like the waters of baptism being poured from God’s own hand, washing off the sin and the blood from ours. If only the rain could wash us clean, scour away the shame of our inability to come together. Instead, we retreat to our corners of the ring, carefully preparing our next scathing comment, or preconceived argument in order to win a
fight that leaves us all losers…especially our children. Oh yes, there is blood on all our hands and the ablution of rainfall is an illusion.
There will never be true cleansing until we repent of our entrenched, divided, myopic viewpoints and stand together and shout at our lawmakers, our leaders, the lobbyists, “ENOUGH!” “WE ARE DONE!”
Beloved of God, this should not be a polarizing issue. It should be a purple (red and blue and all hues between) issue, an every-person issue. This should be an issue where all ideas are put on the table like pieces to a giant puzzle with the pieces shifted and moved until they fit into one cohesive plan. Then it needs to be implemented. There should be no thought given to the cost or to political and economic power or greed. The only thought should be of the victims of senseless violence in our country and
how to stop it before all our children are all gone.
Therefore, if you believe we have the gun laws to help end this already on the books (this is a
piece of the puzzle), good, we need you. Call the lawmakers, and insist they enforce them. If
you belong to and support the NRA, good, we need you. Contact the leadership of this organization and insist they use your money to come up with real solutions (this is a piece of the puzzle). If you believe that we need stricter background checks and legislation regulating the sale of weapon grade firearms (also, a piece of the puzzle), good we need you. Call the
lawmakers too and insist they do something. If you believe that mental health plays a large role
in the perpetration of these crimes (and it does), good, we need you. Call the lawmakers and
insist they write by-partisan legislation that helps provide real mental health research and help.
This is a complex problem, and if we Christians think we can stand back or remain divided, then
we are mistaken!”
Forgive me for returning to words I penned before, or better yet, Lord forgive us for having to return to words I penned before. I felt compelled to do this by the words of one of my teachers from seminary, my colleague and former Presbyter as he posted on Facebook yesterday.
“This time it has struck close to home…
The pastor of the church is my cousin.
One of the slain children is his nine-year-old daughter, also my cousin. Her name was Hallie.
I am grieved beyond words for my cousin, his wife and family. Their loss is incalculable. It
would have been, even if I didn’t know Hallie, hadn’t experienced her vivacious spirit and her
infectious laugh. But she was family, and I knew her. Her loss is incalculable to me, too.
Beneath and behind my grief is my outrage. Out of respect for my cousin and his family, I will
save that outrage for another time. It is not different from similar outrage I have expressed at other such shootings. It need not be repeated here. But I will not forget that outrage.
I will also not forget Hallie.
Today I pray the only prayer that has any meaning anymore.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.”
Beloved of God, we must cry out, because someday it will touch us personally and we will be
penning the words, “This time it has struck close to home.” Also, we will dilute the hope that is contained within the detail of our Savior’s death, that the curtain tore, and we have unfettered access to the presence of God with us and in us. Let us pray with the families of all the victims of gun violence in this country. Let us pray with my friend and colleague.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.